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25 September 2020

Polling: Public wants Keir Starmer to focus on policy ideas over government scrutiny

Polling for the New Statesman suggests a majority of people would prefer more emphasis on solutions from the Labour Party.

By Anoosh Chakelian

A majority of people want the Labour Party to prioritise its own pandemic policies over scrutinising the government’s response, new polling for the New Statesman has found.

When presented with the choice between “the Labour Party should suggest its own policies aimed at tackling the coronavirus” and “the Labour Party should focus on scrutinising the government’s coronavirus policy”, 55 per cent of respondents backed the former, and 27 per cent the latter, according to polling conducted by Redfield and Wilton Strategies for the New Statesman on 22-23 September.

Keir Starmer used his party’s virtual conference this week to indicate a tonal change rather than to announce new policies. Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy also said this week that Starmer’s pledges for tax rises had been scrapped in light of the pandemic.

Although a significant proportion of the 2,500 people surveyed replied “don’t know” (at 19 per cent), this emphasis on Labour devising its own solutions could have implications for the party’s approval ratings.

After all, a favoured attack line from the Tories has been to characterise Labour as “carping from the sidelines” – a line used by Boris Johnson against Angela Rayner in last week’s PMQs, and in Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling’s response to Starmer’s conference speech: “The reality is that Sir Keir refuses to take a position on the most important issues facing our country, always preferring to carp from the sidelines.”

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And when reporting on the failings of the government’s coronavirus response for the New Statesman, I detected a desire for unity and a certain level of tolerance – particularly during the peak – for ministerial mistakes when facing such an unknown challenge.

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“I don’t want to slate the government,” a care home worker struggling to afford to self-isolate told me a while ago. “Even if it was Labour or any other party, they would hit these same problems.

“We’ve all united as a nation, helping each other and coming together – why haven’t the parties done that? Instead of having a dig at each other, all put your ideas together. ‘The Conservatives haven’t done this or that’ – you wouldn’t have either, love, because this is a new thing.”

Nevertheless, Labour has long taken a clear stance on the replacement of the furlough scheme, with shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds claiming the new Job Support Scheme announced today represents a “U-turn” to targeted wage support that she’s requested “40 times”. Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson also told BBC’s Politics Live that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s statement reflected what Labour had already demanded.